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Meet 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Anna Murray!

Today we’re welcoming our final Persister guest (before we get to meet most of them in person at Nationals next week!!), 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Anna Murray, whose manuscript BIRDS OF A FEATHER is nominated for Best Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance.

Anna Murray’s creative essays have appeared in Vox, The Reject Pile, Role Reboot, The Satirist, Daily Mail, Soundings Review, Adanna Literary Journal, Piker Press, and the Guardian Witness. Her recently completed novel is represented by David Black Agency. The Complete Software Project Manager (John Wiley & Sons, 2016), her business title, is a top seller in the Amazon business category and has enjoyed great reviews: “This is a technical book that reads like a novel.”

Anna is also CEO of emedia, llc., a technology consulting company, and holds B.A. in English from Yale and a M.S. in Journalism from Columbia. 

Here’s a blurb for BIRDS OF A FEATHER:

Delia McDonnell has one goal, and it’s money.

Once an heiress living on Fifth Avenue, Delia lost her fortune twenty years ago in the Great Family Financial Disaster of 1986. The betrayal and abandonment surrounding that event soured her on trust, relationships, and love. Now, in 2006, the object of her affection is money, a concrete and reliable companion, one with an exchange rate.

Every bit as brainy as she’s beautiful, Delia assumed a PhD in computers and math would be her ticket to ride. But so far, her best offer is programming software for an automated call center.

Suddenly, Delia finds herself courted by two rival hedge-funds, each owned by a young billionaire. The reason: Her obscure PhD thesis reveals a way to make billions in a coming market crash. 

Delia accepts one of the job offers and begins her life as a “quant.” This includes eighty-hour weeks, six-figure show horses and handbags with price tags like cars. Her multi-million-dollar apartment couldn’t be better. It looks out over her former mansion, today an embassy. 

Delia’s new hedge-fund boss has ties to her past. Big city. Small world.

There’s one thing jeopardizing Delia’s goal. Something may matter to her as much as money—and that’s solving the unexplained death her of beloved aunt and surrogate mother.

Pursuing this decades-old mystery could risk her fortune. Worse: She could spark the ire of her boss. Who knows the lengths to which he might go—or has gone in the past—to deal with those who stand in his way?

In Delia’s quest to reclaim her fortune, she will brave the winning and losing of millions; face the estranged mother she has not seen in years; save a horse; protect an improbable parakeet residing in her window box; grapple with the affections of two hedge-fund titans; and challenge her own conviction of the value of money over love.

That sounds like a terrific read! I’m so delighted the “Mainstream Fiction with a Central Romance” is back in the Golden Heart (under its new name). So many interesting stories in that category, and this is no exception!

Folks, Anna’s here today to share a story from her own writing journey, and it involves…well, just read the title and you’ll know you’re in for a wild ride.

Take it away, Anna!

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The Paris Review, CIA Buddhists, Critique Groups, Kristan Higgins, and Finding Your Tribe

Puffed up with confidence, I ascended a spiral staircase to an oak-carved room at the top of a campus tower. I had qualified for Advanced Fiction, which, that spring, was being taught by a world-renowned Illustrious Author.

Huffing from the climb, I glanced around at my seminar-mates, the 10 applicants with writing samples deemed worthy by the Illustrious Author. The first thing I realized was I was the only one wearing an actual color. The rest of the students’ camouflage green, gray, and black garb seemed to have all been procured at an army-navy surplus store. There was also a very high ratio of Doc Martens to feet.

Worse: The color I happened to be wearing that day was pink.

The Illustrious Author, tall, rail-thin, with closely cropped gray hair, was a founder of The Paris Review and also a former CIA agent. Now a famous Buddhist, he flew twice weekly from his home in East Hampton to Connecticut. In his private helicopter.

I was too naïve at the time to see any of these as warning signs. Ones shouting, “Fly you fool!” I believed in novels with plots and happy endings. I thought everyone did.

That day was the kickoff to thirteen weeks of writing agony. My peers pummeled my short fiction attempts as bourgeois, trite, and reactionary. And, their most damning critique, sweet.

I am honestly not sure whether anything I wrote that spring was any good. My overriding emotion at the time was confusion. Especially when one student’s piece was hailed by the Illustrious Author as the best of the semester.

The story had 14 pages, which, the author said, should first be shuffled like a deck of cards. Then, you read the sequence that resulted.

I didn’t understand a single page, in any order whatsoever.

I made it through the session employing my go-to coping mechanism, humor. My classmates never liked what I wrote. Neither did the Illustrious Author. But I got a few laughs, of which I was proud. Because it was one tough crowd. The experience left me with a lifelong fear of critique groups. Kinda like the way people who are forced to finish all their food recoil from rice pudding.

It’s ironic, then, that this same campus was the location, 30 years later, in which I finally found my tribe.

In the many intervening years of writing, I had fiction and non-fiction pieces published, and two full-length business books. I still felt shaky in the novel world, though—adrift, and pretty much alone.

The summer 2017 writing conference attracted me because it was located at my alma mater, which, Advanced Fiction aside, was the scene of other pleasant memories, and is a short trip from where I live. There was a session on Romance & Women’s Fiction. I wasn’t sure about the romance part. But the women’s fiction rang a bell.

I landed in a familiarly carved oak room, but instead of a Snape-like former CIA agent Buddhist at its head, there was the smiling Kristan Higgins, in an unapologetically yellow dress. Within a few hours, I realized I had finally found it, The Happy Ending Crowd.

I was soon to learn from my friendly, accepting co-attendees in Kristan’s class, romance writers are accustomed to defending what they do. My experience in Advanced Fiction all those years ago was a harbinger—and standard fare for Happy Enders.

Because of the scholarly venue, the conference had many other tracks with aspiring Illustrious Authors. They were predictably serious, and somewhat startled at the presence of romance writers in their midst. As in the decades before, our gaggle of Happy Enders had greater pantone range than the rest.

Having others look down their noses at me felt like the years before, except this time I wasn’t alone. A standout moment occurred during a nightly reading, when many tracks came together to share their work. The wide eyes and appreciative applause for our pieces conveyed, “Wow! So that’s what you do!”

Kristan later said other instructors approached her with compliments on her group.

Good stories have a nice circular structure, where the end ties back to the beginning. This one does as well. At the conference, Kristan reviewed my novel’s synopsis, and in a couple of sessions, pointed out the kinks. It took about four months, but I unkinked it. The resulting manuscript, BIRDS OF A FEATHER, has earned a finalist position in this year’s Golden Heart competition.

 

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 Connect with Anna Murray on social media:

Twitter: @apmurray123

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/amurray725

 

17 responses to “Meet 2018 Golden Heart Finalist Anna Murray!”

  1. Welcome Anna and congrats on finaling AND on finding your tribe! Happy Enders Unite! 🙂

    I intentionally avoided the creative writing program at my university, studying drama and math instead as I wrote novels in my dorm room. I might have missed out, but from what I’ve heard from a lot of Happy Enders in the literary world of academia, I think I might have dodged a bullet. Glad you made your way back to the Happy Ending Club, Anna! Good luck in Denver!

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  2. Elisa Beatty says:

    Welcome, Anna! Thanks so much for being with us today.

    And three cheers for Kristan Higgins and her unapologetically yellow dress!!

    Oy…the very idea of the page-shuffling story (cool postmodern concept, maybe, but it’s gotta be crap to read).

    Glad you found your tribe!!

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  3. Kay Hudson says:

    Entertain, end happy, and hopefully make someone laugh. Mu only goals in writing. Welcome to the tribe!

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  4. Congrats on your final, Anna! I’m glad you went back for more, and had a better experience!

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  5. Tracy Brody says:

    Glad you found your happily-ever-after tribe. And Kristan Higgins is perfect one to set you at ease. I had the pleasure of being her directionally-challenged chauffeur when she spoke to my chapter. And she’s awesome. Congratulations on your Golden Heart final and I look forward to meeting you.

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  6. What a story, Anna! Thanks for sharing it– I’m amazed at your persistence after that disastrous first critique-group experience. You are a strong person, and I predict you’ll make it in this crazy business! So happy you found the tribe– it’s a wondrous experience, isn’t it? 🙂

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    • Elisa Beatty says:

      Yes! That experience was good training for the rough spots that are inevitably to come…and the “Finding your tribe” thing is the way to get through it!

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  7. C.R. Grissom says:

    Wow! Fantastic journey and a compelling book! Can’t wait to meet you in Denver.

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  8. Tamara Hogan says:

    Congrats on your GH final, Anna, and for finding your tribe. Your non-fiction career sounds fascinating to me!! I was a software developer, project manager, process/methodology designer, and auditor in a past life. 🙂

    I swear, some creative writing programs have a LOT to answer for. I teach a couple of genre fiction workshops at The Loft Literary Center in Minneapolis, and I can usually tell pretty quickly which students are in recovery from academic creative writing or MFA programs. I see such relief on their faces when I say, “This is a workshop. There’s no right or wrong here. Take what works for you, and ignore what doesn’t.”

    Best of luck in Denver! Hope to meet you there. We can talk Agile. Or not. 🙂

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  9. OMG your first encounter sounds eerily like my first (and only) creative writing class. The instructor hated my work so much he drew himself vomiting on one of my papers. And to emphasize his meaning, he wrote the word “vomit” underneath it. You know, in case I failed to comprehend.

    I am so glad you found your tribe and thrilled you are here with us today, Anna. Congrats on your final and good luck in Denver!

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  10. suzanne says:

    Rice pudding! Yes, you’re absolutely right on that one. I’m so glad Kristen Higgins showed up on campus with a yellow dress and a happily ever attitude. Congrats on your final and see you in Denver, where I will not offer you rice pudding. I promise.

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  11. Jacie Floyd says:

    Hi Anna,

    Fabulous ending for your story. Any aspiring author would be lucky to end up in Kristan’s hands. And now you’re a Golden Heart finalist! Hurray! Congratulations and thanks for sharing.

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  12. Janet Raye Stevens says:

    Oh, Anna, that sounds like sweet revenge! Glad you finally found us in the “happy ending” crowd–we’re so happy you’ve joined us! See you in just a few days.

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